* More journalists jailed than in China, Eritrea, Iran or
* Government to look into use of pre-trial detention
* Broad use of anti-terror laws criticised
By Jonathon Burch
ANKARA, Dec 19 Turkey has more jailed reporters
than China, Eritrea, Iran or Syria, making it "the world's
biggest prison for journalists", a leading media watchdog said
The report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) adds to a
growing chorus of criticism from Western governments and rights
groups of the EU candidate's jailing of journalists, most of
whom are kept in pre-trial detention.
Repressive laws, broad and vague legal provisions and a
p aranoid j udiciary were to blame for the high number of arrests,
RSF said, and only a complete overhaul of Turkey's
anti-terrorism law and other legal articles could change this.
"Turkey is now the world's biggest prison for journalists, a
sad paradox for a country that portrays itself as a regional
democratic model," France-based RSF said in a statement.
RSF said a total of 72 media workers were currently in
detention, of whom at least 42 journalists and four media
assistants were being held because of their work. RSF was still
investigating the cases of the remaining detainees.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government says most
of the detained media workers are being held for serious crimes,
such as membership of an armed terrorist organisation, that have
nothing to do with journalism.
First elected a decade ago with an overwhelming majority,
Erdogan has presided over a period of unprecedented prosperity,
winning him admirers among Western nations keen to portray
Turkey as an example in a troubled region.
But that narrative has been increasingly undermined by
criticism of the authoritarian style of his rule.
Hundreds of politicians and academics are also in jail on
charges of plotting against the government, while more than 300
army officers were convicted this year of conspiring against
Erdogan almost a decade ago, and handed long jail terms.
GOVERNMENT STANCE SOFTENING?
There are signs the government is beginning to acknowledge
the scale of the problem.
Some journalists have been freed on conditional release in
recent months and over the weekend Deputy Prime Minister Bulent
Arinc said Ankara had prepared a draft law to address pre-trial
detention for journalists and that a "modern" interpretation of
legal articles referring to "propaganda" was needed.
"For us the number is not important, we are greatly saddened
by even one journalist being jailed for their writings,
drawings, journalism activities," Turkish state news agency
Anatolia reported Arinc as saying.
While tallies by rights groups differ slightly, all agree
Turkey has the highest number of jailed journalists, more than
some of the most autocratic regimes. According to RSF, China has
30 jailed journalists, Eritrea 28, Iran 26 and Syria 21.
Most of those in jail in Turkey were from the Kurdish media,
Turkey, along with the United States and European Union,
designates the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which launched an
insurgency in 1984 and seeks greater autonomy for the country's
estimated 15 million ethnic Kurds, a terrorist organisation.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict
between Turkey and the PKK over the past three decades.
While criticism of Turkey's poor record on press freedom
centres mostly on reporters in jail, journalists still working
also complain of government pressure to self censor.
Erdogan and other senior government officials have publicly
berated news outlets by name and criticised them for questioning
the government, or instructed them on how to cover an issue.
Journalists have been openly fired or resigned under
pressure from their employers because of their views, many from
news outlets owned by conglomerates wary of rocking the boat.
(Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon